WASHINGTON – Americans responded almost immediately to early reports that wounded U.S. soldiers in Germany needed clothing, but now the facility as well as the Army hospital in Washington, D.C., are urging donors to hold off for a while.
“It seems like every city had a clothes drive for our soldiers,” said Marie Shaw, public affairs officer at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (search) in Germany, which has tended to more than 18,000 servicemen and women wounded in Iraq since the beginning of operations there in March 2003.
"We received tons of things over the holidays — we now have a warehouse for it," she told FOXNews.com, noting that the Army chaplain in charge of distributing the aid at the hospital is urging donors to delay giving until Spring, when new needs arise. Right now the number of donated coats, gloves and sweatpants is more than they can handle.
"People have their heart in the right place," she said. "It's very overwhelming and heartwarming."
When soldiers arrive at Landstuhl, the biggest U.S. military hospital in Europe, they are given a $250 clothing voucher to cover their basics at the Base Exchange, or BX, at Ramstein Air Force Base (search), said Shaw.
But the voucher proved nearly useless when the base faced a shortage of coats and other warm clothing, mostly due to the influx of wounded soldiers during the November campaign in Fallujah (search). That month, 570 wounded soldiers were shuttled to the base, overwhelming supply on hand, Shaw said.
The need spurred appeals like the one from Lt. Col. Lori Noyes, a deputy commander for the Ramstein Cadet Squadron in the Civil Air Patrol in Germany. Her Nov. 22, 2004, e-mail to members of the Civil Air Patrol said that troops were arriving from the battlefield, “with only their torn, dirty, bloody clothes on their back.
"They have no clothes, underwear or toiletry items. The hospital provides them with only a cotton gown or pajamas, robe and disposable slippers," she wrote, according to a reprint of her plea found on the Web site of South Carolina's Civil Air Patrol.
Noyes reported that soldiers have a difficult time getting to the on-base store, seven miles away from the hospital, and even then, it runs out of items.
The response was overwhelming. The e-mail flew across local news reports, e-mails and Internet blogs and the windfall began.
"You have to dig a tunnel to get through [the chaplain's] office," Shaw said.
The outpouring came not just from the United States. Volunteers from the 39th Operations Squadron based in Incirlik, Turkey, mailed approximately 3,200 pounds of clothing donated by people on the base to Landstuhl, according to a news service for the U.S. Air Force in Europe.
Shaw said the BX never actually ran out of anything as far as she knew, and she downplayed the urgency of the soldiers’ sartorial needs, saying the shortage of cold weather clothing was very brief.
But officials at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (search) in Washington, D.C., say overwhelming generosity is the story stateside as well. They put out a press release last month announcing that they have told staff not to accept any more phone cards or other material donations because they have no more room to hold them.
“I'm not trying to be too negative, but our people who handle patient services are saying that they have everything they need and almost everything they want so we are unable to accommodate further stuff until we are able to move some of it out,” said Don Vandrey, spokesman for the hospital.
He said the hospitals are still looking for "breakaway" pants for non-ambulatory patients as well as cash donations, which administrators can use at their discretion when specific needs arise. As of Dec. 27, the hospital had treated 3,735 wounded since the war began.
Sgt. Joseph Lee, a non-commissioned officer in charge of medical family assistance at Walter Reed, called the contributions to the hospital over the last year “tremendous, it's phenomenal.”
“There is no way of describing it without showing it,” he said. “The American people are great, and they love soldiers. It doesn’t matter what branch of service — all soldiers. The public has just been tremendous in saying, ‘We want to help.’”
Right now, he said, the needs have been satisfied, and concurred with Vandrey that the storerooms are overstocked with most items.
But one Air Force wife says despite the generosity, soldiers still need help. On top of the limited choices at the BX in Landstuhl, when soldiers do find what they need, it frequently ends up costing more than their allowance.
"Two-hundred fifty [dollars] is not really enough," said Joan DeFalco, who is stationed with her husband at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. She's helping her sister Jane Mancini facilitate donations directly to Landstuhl and through various links on www.noanie.com, which calls for the basics as well as some unconventional items like coupons to the Burger King near the hospital.
"We've been getting a lot, but if we could get out more then more of the soldiers can be helped," she said.
John Melia, founder of the Wounded Warriors Project (search), which has raised $2.5 million and handed out more than 3,000 backpacks filled with clothes, toiletries and other gifts to wounded soldiers when they are admitted to U.S. military hospitals, said basics will always be needed.
"If a guy is laying in bed attached to tubes and doesn't have the family there, how is he going to get to the [exchange]? That's where we fill the niche," said Melia, a Marine veteran who was wounded in a helicopter training accident off the coast of Somalia in 1992.
The Wounded Warriors Project is currently putting together 1,500 backpacks of supplies and will continue to seek donations. "If we have another big battle like Fallujah, the stuff will be gone," he said, referring to the contributions lining the storage areas at Walter Reed.